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Diversities and Commonalities – the changing face of Europe’s universities

20-23 October 2010, University of Palermo, Italy



University of PalermoIn response to the multiple demands of to-day’s knowledge societies, universities across Europe are moving to sharpen their distinctive institutional profiles while also maintaining their common cultural heritage and shared values. Universities have a crucial function, not only in creating and disseminating knowledge, but also in reinforcing social cohesion and promoting inter- and multicultural dialogue, not least through involvement in the life of their communities at different levels. They are also increasingly actively engaged in promoting dialogue and building partnerships with a variety of different actors, be it at regional, national or international level.  

The Palermo conference will explore the evolving nature of Europe’s universities. It will take account of the impact both of external pressures to respond to different demands at system level and of internal developments, examining the complex interplay of factors shaping the modern university. This includes rapidly evolving legal frameworks and governance structures, covering mergers, partnerships and other arrangements, as well as funding mechanisms and incentives, QA procedures and other accountability requirements, all of which drive convergence or diversity. Similarly the conference will also consider the attitudes and values  by the different actors in higher education systems, e.g. policy makers, institutional leaders, academics and external stakeholders, that are also important in shaping the development of Europe’s universities.

Goals and Objectives

The Palermo conference will address the various forces pushing for institutional change and in particular for greater diversification in European higher education, how these impact on universities, and what this means in relation to the common values upheld by universities that constitute a unique contribution to our societies.
The key objective is to assist institutional leaders in understanding better and in responding to the different pressures they face, in particular to focus and sharpen their specific institutional profiles.
The Conference will highlight examples of strategies and practices adopted by university leaders in different contexts and designed to enhance specific institutional missions, as well as to attract and retain high quality staff, cater to diverse student profiles, and consider incentives for developing diverse research strategies and research portfolios. The current economic crisis, increasingly limited financial resources and serious government cutbacks in many countries make consideration of these topics crucial, with many institutions under pressure to make difficult decisions as a result of mergers or other change processes as well as fierce global competition.

The Conference thus seeks to:

  • Support university leaders by providing a forum for joint reflection on the pressures they are facing to diversify and sharpen institutional profiles while upholding common academic values, creating and disseminating knowledge and providing service to society
  • Show good practice of institutional development and profiling strategies employed by university leaders responsible for running universities with different institutional models, thereby reflecting on diverse missions designed to promote different forms of excellence
  • Provide a platform for the exchange of experience on leadership and management strategies that have proved effective in implementing complex change processes while taking into account local and national contexts as well as the pressures of the international environment
  • Identify key elements of national policy, support structures and incentives that drive various forms of institutional diversity (and link these to the broader national and European policy objectives for diversity). 


The conference should be of interest to institutional leaders (Rectors, vice rectors, heads of administration, students), as well as other bodies with an interest in higher education policy.

Hosted by:

University of Palermo Logo

European University Association (EUA)

Brussels office:
Avenue de l’Yser, 24
1040 Brussels
Tel: +32 (0) 2 230 55 44

Geneva office:
114, Rue du Rhône
Case postale 3174
1211 Geneva 3
Tel: +41 22 552 02 96